If you told me a few years ago that I was going to be homeless and broke I’d of thought you were crazy. I had everything going for me by the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. I had a steady job at a fast food restaurant for one thing. Yeah that’s not the most glamorous occupation on the planet and it certainly did not pay well, but I had glowing recommendations from my managers because of my time and effort there. Those recommendations were made of course because I wasn’t going to be working there any longer. I had received a scholarship that covered all my classes (save for room and board which I had to take a loan for) and I was going to attend a 40,000 dollar a year university in Arizona.
It was an exciting and scary time for me. I was moving away from my family and going clear across the country. I was going for secondary education with an emphasis in English due to my love of reading and writing. I was going to teach English in Japan, a position that would of not only paid for my room and board, but travel as well as a salary for teaching. I was on the right track and doing well in my classes, receiving A’s and B’s in my classes. I even took on a 400 level course in my first semester and got outstanding marks.
But things were about to take a drastic turn for the worse during midterms that year. I had an episode of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a subsequent panic attack that scared and worried the friends I had made at the university. The stress of being away from my family and the importance of passing my midterms had brought some very dark memories I had repressed for a decade and a half to the surface and rocked my world.
Everyone around me noticed in a few months time that I had drastically changed. The depression I had sunk to had sapped all my energy and I began turning to energy drinks to keep myself up for classes. One large can became two, then two became three. By a few months I was drowning myself in 16 energy drinks as well as an untold number of bottles of soda a day. I gained over a hundred and fifty pounds during that summer and stopped taking care of my personal hygiene entirely. I stopped going to classes and the only contact I had with people were the close friends I had made that were willing to suffer through my unbearable stench from the lack of hygiene and due to the fact that nearly fatal doses of these chemicals were seeping out of my pores.
At my job in an on campus call center, my managers understandably were not really taken with my radical change. My fellow coworkers were complaining about me and I was walking around in an utter daze as if I was some kind of drug addict. It was only when my manager brought me to the general manager that people were starting to see the signs of a complete mental breakdown. The general manager who had worked with psychiatric patients rightly brought me to the mental health station on campus. Though I was already seeking therapy it clearly wasn’t doing much good.
With my not attending classes and the frequency and severity of my panic attacks growing, I got to a point where I couldn’t even function around people. The school asked me to leave. I couldn’t take it any more and threatened suicide. I was talked down by kind people and they arranged for my flight back to my parents in South Carolina.
They were devastated when they saw me. I had left bright eyed and 150 pounds with a bright future ahead of me and came back twice that weight and so delirious I had to be led by the hand by the flight attendants to my seat. My dad didn’t even recognize me at first, and my mom confronted me and asked if I was doing drugs. I suppose the level of chemicals and sugar I was ingesting could very well be considered drugs.
My parents decided against sending me to the hospital and kept me home. I gradually detoxed off of the energy drinks, though being without them left me with even less energy then before. I was catatonic for months before they tried to get me back on my feet. They were dancing on tiptoes about this issue of my traumatic experience and how horridly everything seemed to be going. The college was sending me bills for the loan I had taken out for room and board and I was not in any state to deal with reality.
During my stupor I had developed some truly disturbing addictions and mental problems that I will not discuss with anyone but a professional in a locked room, and when these problems came to light my parents understandably did not know what to do. My mom who has her own history with panic attacks and childhood trauma was not doing well at all, and my dad wanted to protect her, and what he was finding out about me and my problems clearly wasn’t helping. I felt so guilty and such a failure that I went into the back yard with a knife and almost slit my throat.
I ended up calling a therapist I was seeing and had a complete meltdown over the phone. They sent police officers and an ambulance and took me to the emergency room. From there I went to Patrick B Harris Psychiatric hospital where I spent nearly six months receiving treatment for the myriad of problems I had developed. The PTSD that started it all was now just the foundation all the chaos was built on. It took a long time before I even had the desire to leave that place. It is not that a mental hospital was so wonderful, it is that I didn’t think I deserved any better. My parents even to this day don’t know if they can truly trust me any more. Though they still love me and keep in touch, I was told I could not go back home.
So it was in a mental hospital I learned that I did not have a place to call home anymore. I had no idea what a homeless shelter was like and I had been practically institutionalized from living in such a structured and managed environment that I had reservations about leaving. The massive debt I had procured from my forced stay in that place was the farthest thing from my mind.
The first shelter I went to was a place called Harbor of Hope. The people who ran the facility, as good of intentions as they might of had, were the last thing I needed fresh from the hospital. A highly religious and opinionated organization, nearly all of my pass times and coping skills that I had were considered nothing short of sin in their book. My interests in music and entertainment like Japanese animation known as Anime were labeled “satanic” and by the first week slanderous rumors about me were propagated that I was “trying to form a cult.” By the end of the second week I had finally snapped and was in another mental hospital, Three Rivers.
My time in Three Rivers was no where near as long as Harris, but they set me up with a bed at Transitions which I am very grateful for. I have been in this program for several months now and I have plans in the works for getting back on my feet. I have steadily improved while I’ve been in this place and am loosing weight. My relationship with my parents is starting to mend. Things have finally started to look up.
I can only stress to any readers that from my experience, anything can happen. That job you have or that degree you are trying to get can easily slip through your fingers and land you in a place you don’t want to be. I am not a drug addict, I have no criminal record, I consider myself fairly intelligent and yet a series of unfortunate events shattered the life I was trying to build. I haven’t given up yet, but I know now that I need to be constantly vigilant in monitoring my mental state and make sure I do not make the same errors I made in the past.